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17 Jun, 2008 11:34

‘A defeat for liberty’: critics round on new UK terror laws

New legislation which gives British police the power to hold terror suspects for up to 42 days without charge has come under fire from politicians and human rights groups.

Many have described it as a defeat for liberty after the controversial vote was passed in the House of Commons last week. 

The government insists the 42-day measure would only be used in rare cases when an exceptional terrorist threat exists. Each case would have to be approved by Parliament.

But the six-week detention puts Britain out of step with other western democracies. In Canada it is one day, it is two days in the United States, Germany, South Africa and New Zealand and five days in Spain.
One of the MPs against the new law, Labour’s Alan Simpson, said: “There is not one single example when the 28 days was not enough. I am pleased to say that I voted against that extension and I’ll be pleased if the legislation will be thrown out in the House of Lords or by European courts – the more pressure for us as a Labour government. Why would we play about with the removal of rights in a democratic and open society if that is exactly what Al-Qaida would like us to do?”
Simpson protested to the Home Office against the case of a student, Rizwaan Sabit. Sabir had downloaded a copy of an Al-Qaida training manual from a US government website. The manual is also on the websites of the Federation of American Scientists and of the U.S. Department of Justice.

He e-mailed the document to his friend, Hisham Yezza, and asked if he could print it for him. But the pair were arrested when a university employee contacted the police saying that the manual had been seen on Yezza’s computer. Sabir spent six days in small cell without charge.

He said: “This is a kind of psychological torture and part of the criminalization of innocent people. They knew I was innocent – they told my solicitor I was innocent – and yet they continued to try and dig up information about me.”

Yezza, upon release, was immediately rearrested on unrelated immigration charges and despite his 13 law-abiding years of life in Britain now faces deportation to Algeria.

An expert from the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements in Moscow, Boris Kagarlitsky, said: “The terrorism threat is a tremendous possibility, a great pretext, for the manipulation and control over society, no matter where it happens – in England or Russia.”